The rotator cuff of the shoulder is made up of four muscles whose tendons come together to form a covering around the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) and top of the shoulder. Together with the joint capsule, ligaments and shoulder labrum, the rotator cuff muscles are important, dynamic stabilizers and movers of the shoulder joint. As the name implies, the rotator cuff functions to allow you to rotate your shoulder and lift your arm.
Rotator cuff tendonitis (inflammation) and rotator cuff tears are common conditions in active people.
Both conditions are usually caused by a prolonged period of repetitive stress (and the tendonitis condition itself may, over time, lead to an eventual tear). This type of stress is usually associated with overhead work-related activities or athletics such as tennis or throwing sports like baseball, cricket or jai alai. However, the rotator cuff may also be acutely injured in trauma involving a fall on the arm and shoulder or from heavy lifting. (It is common among weightlifters.)
A dislocated shoulder injury may also cause a torn rotator cuff.
Symptoms of a rotator tear or of rotator cuff tendonitis can include:
Diagnosis of a rotator cuff injury is made through a careful review of your medical history and a physical exam. This is because there are other conditions which can cause similar symptoms, such as a compressed nerve in the neck (also called a "pinched nerve") or shoulder arthritis.
All of the above treatments are usually followed by supervised physical therapy to regain shoulder motion and strength.
A partial or complete tear of the rotator cuff tendon is generally repaired by arthroscopic surgery. Open surgery (using a larger incision) may be necessary for large, complicated full tears of the rotator cuff.
Get more detailed information on rotator cuff injuries and treatments from the articles and other content below, or select Treating Physicians to find the best sports medicine doctor or surgeon at HSS for your particular condition and insurance.
Get information on exercises and techniques to help you prevent injuries or tears in your rotator cuff.
Find articles and videos on surgical and nonsurgical treatments for rotator cuff injuries.
Read articles about other shoulder injuries and conditions that may affect the rotator cuff.